Incantation Bowls

You may be surprised to know, in Ancient Mesopotamia and surrounding peoples, they made things called Incantation Bowls to ward off and trap demons. They buried them face down in graves and in their house so demons would not be able to harm them. All either have Aramaic, Syriac or Mandaic that spiral from the outside into the center of the bowl. They say things that the person wants to prevent, such as disease to things like getting cheated out of their wages at work! They also list various spirits and demons they want the bowl to stop.

An interesting thing to note, many scholars think that the bowls demonstrate evidence of cultural exchange and syncretism. Many peoples who made the bowls date when monotheism was a new concept and their pagan roots were still strong. Even ancient Hebrews made some of these too despite their religion being mostly monotheistic. Very early on, they did worship other Gods in addition, but those Gods went out of favor and evolved into the monotheistic God they have now. People between the two stages still believed in other spirits and demons and held on to pagan beliefs to some extent. Also, the scholars believe that the bowls also show some Hellenistic elements too.

However, the most interesting thing is the pictures that appear on the majority of the bowls. They are supposed to be various demons that they want to stop. A common feature of them is that many have their arms raised and their legs spread wide. Many also are fettered on their legs and some even from their left leg to their nipple! There are what looks to be both male and female demons. Some have disheveled hair and headdresses and some are clothed. One even has wings!

A survey of the figure drawings indicates traditions broadly corresponding to script Aramaic bowls favor a figurative, realistic style, whereas the Mandaic specimens are generally executed in a more impressionistic fashion. In Aramaic incantation bowls, a single anthropomorphic figure is rendered full-frontal, although occasionally profiles are shown . In Mandaic incantation bowls two figures are sometimes drawn . Amidst this disparity, certain features are constant. The figures have out-stretched arms with fingers clearly drawn. They stand splayed with out-turned feet and have disheveled hair, of varying lengths, which is rendered by a series of strokes . The figures wear, in the Aramaic incantation bowls, denticulated head-dresses, which have been styled as head-bands in the Mandaic bowls . The demons are frequently fettered at the ankles , a double shackle on the left leg connected to the left breast being favored in the Mandaic tradition. In some of the Aramaic specimens, the figures have wings and talons or pincer feet, traits that do not occur in the Mandaic incantation bowls… (The Iconography of Incantation Bowls)

I think the most striking thing of all is how crudely they were drawn. They look to me less like scary demons, and more like “doodle monsters”! It looks like a five year old drew them! I get that not everyone’s a good artist, but really? Could they try a little harder? The peoples who made those drawings have done much better artwork on other artifacts! It’s hard to take them seriously when they look like a doodle found in kindergarten! Overall, still quite fascinating! The Iconography of Incantation Bowls



About History Is Interesting

I like ancient and medieval history!
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